‘I’ ON CULTURE
Martin Scorsese’s new film The Wolf of Wall Street is a fun ride. Its motto is more or less “nothing succeeds like excess,” although in the end, the central characters have failed. While the plot is meandering, Scorsese provides enough chunks of entertainment to keep viewers engrossed throughout the film. Some reviewers called this film a “satire,” but that style usually means changing reality to mock reality. Here, events are so extreme that reality goes beyond satire. And that is the real problem of the movie; things were so wild that satire would fail.
The story is based on the autobiography of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a stockbroker who made a fortune in the 1980s. We first see him on his first day of work, meeting with Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), a veteran trader, who explains that the only way to get through the stress of the job is cocaine and hookers. Belfort gets his broker’s license on the day the stock market crashed and was soon unemployed. His first wife encouraged him to stay in the business, and he wound up working for a penny stock broker in a real boiler-room type of operation. He was so effective, using the skills he learned at the more upscale place, that he soon went into business for himself, picking up goofy Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) as a partner. He upgraded the company’s image and soon was making enormous amounts of money, pouting that he only made $49 million one year, missing a million dollars a week by only a small amount.
And great wealth brought all the distractions that had been previously discussed. We get to see dwarf-throwing contests (including a discussion by the top company execs that dwarfs were “built for that kind of thing” and could not be hurt) and hookers by the dozen. Belfort uses drugs and hookers and never holds back. Finally, he meets Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie), an incredibly beautiful woman, and falls madly in love. He divorces his first wife (a very good Cristin Milioti) and marries Naomi, but still carries on like crazy. After a while, however, he becomes the target of the government. The second half of the film deals with his efforts to launder his money and avoid arrest. His pride, however, gets in the way, and, indulging himself as he had done for years, he engineers his own downfall.
The cast is great. DiCaprio handles a role that should have been remarkably unsympathetic (regular drug abuse, cheating on two wives with hookers, ruining the lives of thousands of people who believed in him, betraying his own supporters) but manages to appear as a charming man/child, somehow rising above all the dirty dealings. The film uses the device of his own narration of events, including talking to the audience while in the middle of scenes, and he becomes a more complete character. There is a lot of humor, and DiCaprio handles the comedy element as well.
The rest of the cast is excellent. Robbie as his second wife is not only beautiful, but a fine actress. Although from Australia, she sports a fabulous Brooklyn accent and creates an interesting character, a really good foil for DiCaprio’s Jordan. Hill is over the top as the sidekick. My own opinion is that he portrayed such an ass that he weakened the movie; why would anyone with a brain in his head as well as secrets want a total ass as a partner? Rob Reiner as Belfort’s father was good as the moral center of the action. Jean Dujardin (star of The Actor) was wonderful as their crazy Swiss banker, who often dropped into French while talking with the partners.
This is definitely a movie for adults. Do not bring the kids along. There is extensive drug use of a variety of illegal products, and there are hordes of naked hookers. Nothing is left to the imagination.
There seemed little point in the film aside from the idea “pride goes before a fall.” DiCaprio’s merry outlaws were vulnerable because they could worship only the money they made. The lack of a real point weakens the movie, but it still provides for a pleasant few hours. It is a good, not great, film.